[How I Work] Giving back to a resource that’s given so much
John Rodenhausen is Maryland Director of Major Giving at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), where he secures funding for programs that have made the 64,000-square-mile watershed the clearest it’s been in 30 years—not just a matter of public health, but a major boon for the blue crab population and the industries it supports. A native of Pennsylvania, one of six states reached by the Chesapeake system, Rodenhausen joined the Baltimore-based organization 19 years ago, growing along with the organization as it moved into its waterfront headquarters—the first LEED Platinum building in the world—in 2000 and established its signature on-site fundraiser, Bands in the Sand, in 2002.
My job, the short version: Working with our donor base—individuals, corporations, and foundations—to support our programs.
My job, the long version: I’m one of several state directors—there’s one of me in Pennsylvania, two in Virginia, and one in D.C.—who make up the major gift officer team. We work across all CBF departments and in concert with our membership department, executive branch, and board to raise funds supporting our main programs in environmental education, advocacy, restoration, and litigation.
How I got here: I came on board in spring of 1998 as an environmental educator, working with students, teachers, and decision-makers to help them experience the resources of the bay, explain how our daily actions impact local water quality, and demonstrate actions they can take to help it. I moved on to do teacher training and some restoration projects, joined the development department ten years ago, and I’ve been Maryland Director of Major Giving for about five years. The organization has allowed me to grow and develop in ways that I simply could not have imagined, so I feel very fortunate to be here.
What drew me to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation: I’ve been working on the water ever since I was 16 years old (I was a YMCA camp counselor and a water ski instructor), so the Foundation gave me the opportunity to share my passion for the water and give back to the resource that’s provided me a job for almost 30 years. Another component: working with very passionate, caring souls who give everything for the cause—these are folks with brackish water coursing through their veins. It’s a great big family working to “Save the Bay.”
What I’m working on right now: One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is helping put together our annual fundraiser, Bands in the Sand, which is an amazing way to utilize our waterfront property and celebrate the Bay. It takes place on the beach right outside our headquarters, hosts about 1,500 people, and features food from a local restaurant, great cold beverages, and three bands playing under the stars—in past years we’ve had The Wailers and Kevin Bacon’s band, The Bacon Brothers; this year’s headliner is Los Lobos. I handle a lot of the sponsorships for that event.
What puts me on top of the world: One of the greatest parts of this job is connecting people’s philanthropic interests with our programmatic needs. It’s finding that synergy: Helping them to fulfill the quest they’re on to make a real-world impact.
What keeps me up at night: Policy changes by a local or national official can undo years, if not decades, of progress, so large shifts in the political landscape can be worrying. Our organization has been around for 50 years, so we have seen the pendulum swing both ways.
What keeps me grounded: Immersing myself in the cause and the resources of the Chesapeake: spending time in the bay, on the water, is where I am happiest. That, and working with people who are able to share in that passion, are what keeps me charged.
My advice to anyone seeking this role: If you love this type of work, then look for any place to begin. You hear people say, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s how I’ve felt the last 19 years at the Foundation. Follow your passion and enjoy the ride, but be ready to work hard and develop your sense of optimism.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation fights for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams, covering a six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed that is home to more than 17 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals. Find out more on their website, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.